As a mom of a 4-year-old boy, I am constantly thinking about the future school that he will be attending. (To be quite honest it’s more a stressed out wringing of the hands than actual thinking). But, in today’s times, I think a lot of parents feel the same way. It’s scary to think about them out there without us. I now have a sense of peace after speaking with Officer Justin Heard of the Lewisville Police Department. I cannot say enough how this man absolutely radiates joy, kindness, and warmth. I hope his story helps ease your mind, like it did for me.
You know the drill! Grab some coffee, and let’s dive in!
From Football to the Force
Officer Heard is from a small town in Alabama. He grew up surrounded by people he knew and a wonderful family, indulged in activities with friends, and enjoyed his everyday life. He had dreams of becoming a pro football player, but as we all know, sometimes dreams don’t pan out, so he revised his plan and began a different path. Personally, I am so glad he did! His parents invested a sense of responsibility in him, and off to college he went. He played football until he was injured, but along the way he gained some valuable insight. His coach was strict, and always gave advice that might have not been easy to receive. They bumped heads frequently, but sometimes we end up respecting those people the most. His coach guided and paid attention to the details of his life. Even potential police officers aren’t perfect, and he needed some directing. Looking back, Officer Heard recognizes the impact his coach had on him. He confessed that he might not have always liked the guidance, but, looking back, he acknowledges that his coach steered him in the right direction. It seems we all need a little tough love sometimes, and we end up better because of it.
Officer Heard knew that football had reached its end, yet he still kept his head above water. He remained positive, and knew that he wanted to do something that would help others.
His mentality is:
“When you feel down, do something for others. Focus on the bigger picture, and give back. You’ll be amazed at how it can change your mood, and even your life.”
Well, we all know what happens next! He decided to pursue the police force, and found his new niche. He trained, and studied, and truly applied himself to gain all the necessary skills to begin his new career. He had no clue what was ahead, but knew he needed to prepare for anything. He was diligent, focused, and, not long after, began his first job at a prison. Now, I know my first thoughts: “Oh wow, that doesn’t seem fun. More like a tad depressing.” Not for Officer Heard though. He did confess that it wasn’t easy being in there for 12 hours a day. “At times, I felt like I was locked up too.” However, he was there to learn and train, and while it wasn’t “fun,” it prepared him for his next chapter.
One lesson in particular came from a man he worked with there. He introduced him to something he called “Verbal Judo.” Now, before I get into what that is, let me state that Officer Heard is a very nice guy, (he says sometimes too nice) and coming into the force it can be confusing. Does someone need to be extra tough, or more enforcing? How could he balance his naturally kind state of mind with a tougher exterior? Walking into a prison you might have some preconceived notions about how you may need to act, or represent yourself, and that could become overwhelming. As time passed, he saw that a lot of these guys just wanted to tell their stories, pass the time with their hidden talents, and at the end of the day, they just wanted to be seen as normal people. We all make mistakes, but still deserve compassion, and that is the mentality Officer Heard had.
Now, back to Verbal Judo. At a prison he knew he might have to step in at times and use physical force. But, his mentor there taught him a valuable lesson. While we may have fists, and the skills to use physical force, we don’t need to start there. As a matter of fact, we need to try something before it ever reaches that point. Hence, the Verbal Judo lesson.
“Why should we ever use our fists to fight when we can use our mouth. Learning how to talk to people in the right way is the key. We get more respect when we speak to people correctly...respectfully. It doesn’t matter who they are. We should never treat anyone like we are better than them. Take five extra minutes to talk, and work it out. Calm the situation before it gets out of hand. It’s a maturity thing, and a lesson in patience. If we can diffuse a situation without force, then everyone wins.”
While what we learn in school or training is necessary, Officer Heard acknowledges that we also learn by being in an environment, and by who we surround ourselves with. We need to be receptive to others' wisdom and advice. He learned a lot at the prison, and those instilled practices prepared him for his next season.
Into the Schools
He moved to Dallas for his now wife, and they eventually celebrated two beautiful daughters. He began his new job at Durham Middle School in Lewisville, and his wife became a stay-at-home mom to their 3-year-old, and 4-month-old daughters. Now a husband and father, he was ready to see what was next. His life was taking on a new course.
Moving forward, I was eager to see his view on being an SRO (School Resource Officer). I have to be honest though, I was interested in his story from a mom’s perspective too. I wanted to have insight on what he dealt with, and what it was like being in the school. I wanted to know the nitty gritty, and the stuff we don’t get to see. As parents we just can’t help ourselves! Well, as we continued our talk, it became very obvious that Officer Heard absolutely adores the kids at his school. He uses his position to educate, to be a friend, therapist, mentor, guidance counselor, and whatever the children may need. An open-door mentality is his method.
As we all know, kids are different. They come from different backgrounds, different environments, and at times they need different care. Officer Heard caters to them all. Whether he takes time to go pick up a kid from school that doesn’t have a way there, or he brings doughnuts to create some happiness in their day, or he just answers some questions, he steps up to each situation and does the best he can. He shared that the kids actually inspire him.
“As adults we have walls. We build them subconsciously, and half the time we don’t even know they are there. We turn people away, or cast people out of our lives without a second thought. I see these kids become friends no matter where they come from. I see them get over their arguments by next period. I see them accept each other, no matter what they look like. They encourage me... They motivate me… They are resilient. “
His opinion is, “it’s ok if we all come from different upbringings. No matter the situation if we apply the right tools, then we can change our paths. It’s all about respect. I respect them, and they show me the same in return. We have to treat everyone the same way…no matter what.”
Of course, within today’s times there is pressure being an SRO. It’s not all easy, and the pressure behind the “what if’s” could be trying. Officer Heard gets up every day stepping up to the plate. As a father, he is naturally protective of the young ones in his care. Whether it be outside threats, or “close to home” threats, he is always aware and ready to help.
“School is a place where these kids should feel safe. They may not get that feeling from home, so I try my best to make school a safe haven: elcoming, protected, and a place where they have a sense of peace. I try my best to make their day great. I go in knowing I will protect them like they are my own.”
Now, that pressure can get overwhelming. As a mom, I get stressed about only one child, so I can’t imagine having hundreds to watch over. I asked Officer Heard how he decompresses. What does he do to clear his mind and rebalance? This question made him laugh!
“Well, my wife would say video games. I do love them, and they really just help me get away! But in all honesty, I just enjoy doing anything with my family. We love going to aquariums, events, or just playing outside. I grew up on a farm with cows, chickens, and really enjoy nature in general. Being outside makes you feel better, and mental health is important. You have to take care of yourself, or else you aren’t helping anyone. I turn off when I get home, and focus on them. I have two full time jobs (family man and SRO), and they both deserve my time and attention. When I get home, I dedicate my time to them. They help me realign.”
Officer Heard balances family, being a dad, a mentor, helping to guide our young ones, and really takes pride in those positions.
More than a Badge
There is a lot of pressure being a person that could impact a child’s future, and he takes it very seriously. I continuously commended Officer Heard on his mindset throughout our conversation. But, at the end of the conversation he paused…. He looked thoughtful for a second, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he was about to say. He looked up and said,
“I want to end with this statement…
I want to give credit to teachers. I want the last thing I say to be about them…They deserve recognition. They are the most underrated people ever. They are truly amazing to me. They have so many kids to handle each day, and yet they have the patience of Saints. They educate. They take care of needs. They have to impact kids’ lives day in and day out. They take care of our most priceless processions. Teachers leave a mark on a child’s future, far more than anyone thinks. We, as adults, always look back at memories involving them.
I see them and I salute them”
Officer Heard's story isn’t just about a job title or a badge. I actually think it’s about a man invested in kids, their lives, their ups and downs, and their futures. He helps guide, and unwittingly is an inspiration to them. He gives back, and celebrates whoever is around him.
His story doesn’t stop with me. As a matter of fact… I think it will carry on through the kids, and the hearts he has, and will, touch.
I commend you again Officer Heard, and all the teachers that share in the responsibility of taking care of our kids.
We at LAW salute all of you.